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CUS0010.1177/1749975516628309Cultural SociologyDe Boise

Article

Post-Bourdieusian Moments
and Methods in Music
Sociology: Toward a Critical,
Practice-Based Approach

Cultural Sociology
117
The Author(s) 2016
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DOI: 10.1177/1749975516628309
cus.sagepub.com

Sam de Boise

rebro University, Sweden

Abstract
Bourdieus work has been hugely influential in sociological research on music and society, especially
in shaping research on the relationship between social inequalities and music. Recent sociological
work has also updated his approach in order to demonstrate how his central insights are still
relevant today, demonstrating strong links between music and social inequalities. Despite a move
toward a post-Bourdieu moment in the sociology of music (Prior, 2011), few have attempted to
outline empirical strategies which are critically sensitive to social inequalities, whilst addressing
questions of aesthetics, value, resistance and social change. This article acknowledges Bourdieusian
contributions to the sociology of music as well as attempts to update Bourdieus initial approach.
However, it argues that a new understanding of musical subjectivity, a broader focus on music
engagement, as well as greater methodological flexibility, are required in order to help us explore
increasingly complex relationships between music and social inequalities today.

Keywords
Bourdieu, cultural capital, habitus, music, sociology, practice-based, affect, Bourdieusian, music
engagement, methods, methodology, methodological

Introduction
Since Distinctions (1984) English translation, the study of music, in Anglophone countries particularly, has often looked to Pierre Bourdieu in explaining how music and society intersect (see Prior, 2013), locating music tastes within the logic of habitus and
cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1977, 1984, 1993, 2001). His work has helped to illuminate
how music tastes and music criticism are influenced by, but also help to reproduce, social
Corresponding author:
Sam de Boise, School of Music, Theatre and Art, rebro University, 702 81 rebro, Sweden.
Email: sam.deboise@oru.se

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Cultural Sociology

inequalities. Crucially, such insights have impacted on public policy, education and
debates around the value of different forms of music (Savage, 2006).
Bourdieus insights were developed from a study of 1960s France, therefore others
have emphasised the necessity of updating his approach in order to reveal current
arrangements underlying the social distribution of tastes in different cultural contexts
(Bennett etal., 2008; Bihagen and Katz-Gerro, 2000; Lizardo, 2006; Lopes, 2000; Prieur
and Savage, 2011; Rimmer, 2010; Savage and Silva, 2013; Savage etal., 2015).
Nevertheless, despite insightful critiques of Bourdieus theoretical and methodological
shortcomings, these perspectives still tend toward the basic tenets of habitus and cultural
capital; tweaking the initial framework rather than formulating new approaches.
As Prior (2011) has noted, there has been an emergent trend toward a post-Bourdieu
moment in the sociological study of music (see also Atkinson, 2011; Born, 2005,
2010; Prior, 2013). Yet the temptation is often to focus on where Bourdieu gets it
slightly wrong without outlining a clear research agenda capable of responding to
historical, technological and social changes. It is necessary not just to reformulate
Bourdieu, but to fundamentally challenge the way in which Bourdieusian approaches
fail to grasp the complexity of relationships between social inequalities, social life and
music today. This means incorporating new theoretical frameworks in empirical, music
sociology which focus on practice but do not lose sight of dynamics of power and
historical contexts.
Beginning by outlining how Bourdieus work has shaped the sociological study of
musical taste, this article highlights some key criticisms of Bourdieu-inspired approaches
to music; particularly around issues of aesthetics, social change and methods. Drawing
examples from recent research (de Boise, 2015; DeNora, 2003a, 2003b; Kassabian,
2013; Thompson and Biddle, 2013), it then outlines how critical work on affect and subjectivity, a focus on engagement, as well as greater methodological flexibility, offer alternatives to deterministic notions of cultural capital and habitus. Through a more critical,
practice-based framework, this article argues that an empirically nuanced music sociology, which not only more adequately describes widespread engagement with music
but which also draws attention to strategies of creative resistance, without neglecting
questions of power, is possible.

Bourdieu and Music: A Brief Summary


Cultural Capital, Habitus and Music
In Distinction Bourdieu famously argued that class membership related to cultural taste
and that symbolic practices of choice helped to create and accentuate hierarchies between
groups. Discerning between good and bad pieces of music (Bourdieu, 1984: 64) or
engaging in certain musical activities (Bourdieu, 1984: 18), he suggested, are rooted in
class-based practices and manifest in physical, embodied responses toward certain cultural forms and practices (habitus). Whilst he was not the first to use the term habitus (see
Burkitt, 2002), Bourdieus formulation drew attention to the way in which seemingly
trivial choices carry a symbolic dimension which translates to material inequalities
(Adkins and Skeggs, 2004; Brubaker, 1985; King, 2000; Moi, 1991).

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Through extensive, quantitative, multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) of 1960s


French society, Bourdieu demonstrated how occupational and educational differences
were closely related to both awareness and appreciation of specific music pieces. Formal
appreciation structures (Bourdieu, 1984: 68) required to hear and understand particular
forms of music, he argued, were shaped by cultural intermediaries such as conservatoires, teachers, curators, and were inextricably linked to the material distribution of
wealth in society. Having interests in the right kinds of music and developing an ability
to articulate these to others with a similar training, allowed communities to form around
shared tastes (cultural capital). Therefore tastes were mediated by, and helped to reinforce, social hierarchies through the exclusion or expulsion of other tastes on the basis of
class (Bourdieu, 1984: 56). The very act of making musical distinctions therefore is to be
understood as a form of symbolic violence.
Accordingly, a persons habitus, defined as a set of durable, transposable dispositions
that emerges out of a relation to wider objective structures of the social world (Bourdieu,
1977: 72, original emphasis) influences their cognitive appraisal of musical pieces (doxa)
as well as their embodied responses to it (hexis). Thus, even minor individual choices
about how to engage with music are inextricable from class relations in a given society.
Knowing what to listen to, how (or how not) to dance to different types of music, or
learning to sit quietly with a finger resting on your chin during a Monteverdi performance are all class-based, culturally learned responses. In this respect, Bourdieus
approach also claimed to have transcended the dualism between structure and agency, as
well as to have shown how our emotions, thoughts and desires, presumed to be biological,
were shaped by social power relations (Throop and Murphy, 2002).

Updating Bourdieu
Bourdieus attempts to reconcile the embodied experience of listening to music with classbased inequalities, has made his work appealing to those researching music with an explicit
focus on power relations (Atkinson, 2011; Frith, 2002; Prior, 2013). Starting from the
premise that economic power was disseminated through structural hierarchies, he sought to
reveal the underlying arrangements and tendencies along which tastes were distributed.
Through this, he aimed to challenge the notion of legitimate culture, ultimately to show
how tastes may reproduce social inequalities, but also to indicate how notions of good and
bad tastes are subjectively located within objective class structures, in order to affect social
change (Brubaker, 1993: 218).
Learning to recognise certain features associated with classical or popular music,
as well as learning to appreciate certain music as music, requires socialization into particular cultural and sonic conventions (Koskoff, 2014). As Prieur and Savage (2011)
suggest, this means that we need to update cultural capital theory, dependent on the
national and historical context, in order to understand the arrangement of a particular
class structure in conjunction with relations between economic and cultural capital.
Others using Bourdieus approach have demonstrated how music genres themselves can
be understood as fields in their own right (Lopes, 2000; Prior, 2008), with their own
governing internal rules, logics and tacit understandings (see Bourdieu, 1993).
Bennett etal.s (2008) work applied Bourdieus MCA approach directly to British
society, in order to establish whether the principles outlined in Distinction held the same

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relevance 40 years later. In contrast to the cultural omnivore thesis (see Atkinson, 2011;
Warde etal., 2007) they noted that musical taste is by far the most powerful differentiating feature (Bennett etal., 2008: 46, emphasis added) of cultural tastes and that there
were still distinct class differences in terms of taste in jazz and classical music. Heavy
metal was also more likely to be enjoyed by people with higher levels of education in
Great Britain (Savage and Gayo, 2011); something which was replicated more recently
in the Great British Class Survey (GBCS) findings (see Savage etal., 2015).
Using similar methods, Prieur and Savage (2011) argue that the relationship between
highbrow tastes and class may have weakened in both Great Britain and Denmark but
they still remain present. Bihagen and Katz-Gerro (2000: 331) demonstrated stronger gender than class divides in highbrow taste in Sweden, with women indicating a stronger
preference for highbrow music than men. Purhonen etal. (2011) found similar trends in
Finland, whilst Lizardo (2006) has argued that women who are active in the labour force
in the US may also have a higher propensity for highbrow music than men from the
same group, indicating intersections between socio-economic factors and gender.
Bourdieu attributed differences in taste and participation to class but largely ignored
other dynamics of inequality. His one major treatment of gender Masculine Domination
(2001) was remarkably ignorant of previous decades of feminist scholarship (Moi,
1991; Wallace, 2003) and transposed a phallocentric vision of class onto relations between
men and women (Ashall, 2002). Nevertheless, others have also demonstrated how principles of cultural capital and habitus can be used to discuss multiple inequalities (Adkins
and Skeggs, 2004; Rollock etal., 2011), and gender and music specifically, in more contemporary contexts (Auslander, 2006; Branch, 2012; Brill, 2008; Thornton, 1995).

Cultural Capital and its Critics


Aesthetics and Value
Approaches which have updated Bourdieus key insights have left his central premises
in place: music tastes are integral to forming communities based on social hierarchies;
musics value is determined by its positioning in relation to social power structures; and
acts of musical distinction reinforce and perpetuate social inequalities. Judgments about
musical worth and value therefore operate as a form of symbolic violence as much as a
means of shaping communities.
Bourdieus initial formulation of a division between highbrow and lowbrow cultural
forms rested on Kants notion of pure and barbarous aesthetics (Bourdieu, 1984: 30).
Crucially, appreciation, in Bourdieus view, entailed something distinguished from
enjoyment in that a pure aesthetic was characterised by a disinterestedness (Bauman,
2011) which celebrates the distance of culture from daily life (Savage, 2006: 160). In
contrast, barbarous aesthetic judgments were characterised by immediate gratification, a
use of emotion to guide judgment and a lack of formal training.
Bourdieu recognised this division as a social construct. Yet the division between highbrow and lowbrow is a reductive notion of aesthetic judgment which interprets musics
value solely through its social function (Frith, 2002: 251). Bourdieusian scholars have
been critical of the premise that certain types of cultural forms can always be understood

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as highbrow (see Hanquinet etal., 2014). However, in updating the approach rather than
interrogating the fundamental assumptions on which the approach is based, they leave the
basic idea that the powerful intellectualise their cultural tastes, whereas the less powerful
uncritically and passively experience music, intact. A perceptual division between highbrow and lowbrow music is therefore unwittingly reinforced, even if it is labelled something else, through the false polarity between cognitivism and embodiment.
This is a perverse form of snobbery, in that such approaches implicitly suggest that
musical and aesthetic value, for the less (economically) powerful, reside in a lack of
education or an inability to exercise critical judgment (see Watson, 2011). A discussion
of aesthetics which recognises, but is not entirely defined by, social inequalities is possible and has been taken up by others (Adorno, 1976, 1997 [1970], 2002a; DeNora,
2001; Macarthur, 2002; McClary, 1991; Watson, 2011; Wolff, 1983, 2008). Yet complex
debates around value and aesthetics have often been sidelined in favour of creating
causal links between taste and class.
Furthermore, in many Bourdieusian approaches there is frequently no account of the
music itself (Born, 2010; Hennion, 2010). The specific sonic properties of pieces, questions of how music is constructed, as well as how it is read, interpreted and understood
are important for addressing processes of how people become attached to or learn to
dislike certain music forms. Work around music and emotions has demonstrated, for
example, that physiological responses are often mediated, but not determined, by the
listeners training (DeNora, 2003b; Juslin and Sloboda, 2012).
Bourdieusian scholars have discussed habitus and emotions (see Friedman, 2015),
music and emotions in relation to habitus (Becker, 2012), and the importance of geography in the formation of a musical habitus (Rimmer, 2010). Yet there is still a tendency
toward seeing emotions as individual bodily responses whose form and exhibition
becomes engrained in subjects as a sole consequence of demographic differences. The
properties of a piece (tonality, pitch, tempo, harmony, dynamics, structure), in conjunction with memory, context, space, age and listening (see Adorno, 1976), all play a part in
shaping practice and embodied response (Atkinson, 2011; Cochrane etal., 2013; de
Boise, 2015; DeNora, 2000; Hennion, 2007; Lundqvist etal., 2009). All of these are not
easily understood by gauging tastes (Warde, 2014).

Reproduction, Resistance and Change


Bourdieus argument that perceptions around musical taste are powerful markers of symbolic, and therefore social, reproduction has been important in musicology and music
sociology. Yet through a stress on the homology of the musical field (or fields in general, see Brubaker, 1985: 748), and the conflation of value with institutional validation,
he failed to offer a model for either individual or collective resistance and change
(Burawoy, 2012; Butler, 1999; Lovell, 2000). Therefore whilst the appeal of habitus is
that, Bourdieu claimed, it overcame the binary between structure and agency, habitus,
and its role in producing cultural capital, constantly reverts to a sophisticated form of
objectivism (King, 2000: 418).
Some have explicitly observed how Bourdieus approach struggles with thinking
about changes in the creation of music and individual changes in music use over time

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(Born, 2010; Hennion, 2007, 2010). Others have more comprehensively outlined how
social and technological shifts (the development of the printing press, shellac, vinyl,
radio waves and digital recording devices) have significantly changed interaction with
music (Adorno, 1976; Attali, 1985; Born, 2005; Prior, 2008; Wolff, 1993). Faced with
exclusion, people also react by creating their own music networks which have had a
significant impact in changing peoples perceptions of society and the music itself (see
for example Bowers and Tick, 1986; Chang, 2005; Downes, 2012; Macarthur, 2002;
Rustin and Tucker, 2008). The development of various music forms is therefore not easily explained by the isolated actions of either an established cultural elite or a culturally
nave, lower class.
Bourdieusian scholars have noted that resistance through taste is possible (Rimmer,
2010), that societies change, and that music can go from being considered a low to a
high art form without disrupting class hierarchies (Lopes, 2000). Nevertheless, they
often interpret these phenomena within a framework whereby the agency of marginalised groups is eclipsed by the actions of economic elites. For instance, whilst Bennett
etal. (2008) suggest that there is working-class resistance to culturally elitist art forms,
they tend to portray this as semiotic resistance, in that it is symbolic rather than changing the structure of society. Resistance through, and change in, music, come to be portrayed as largely futile activities because they do not correspond to economic status.
These approaches, therefore, still segregate the merely cultural (see Butler, 1998)
from more concrete material inequalities (particularly in the division of cultural from
economic capital), rather than a potentially co-constitutive part of them. In fact, music is
intertwined with material change in various ways. For example the growth of English
light music shorter, simple choruses with English lyrics, referencing themes that ordinary people understood actually aided in the rise of the music halls in London and
therefore new forms of social participation and migration during the 19th century (Scott,
2008). Even today, music scenes are still often a direct reason for migration to particular
cities, which impacts on and changes the fundamental structure of material segregation
within them (Finch, 2015; Gibson and Homan, 2004).
Music provides focal points for the development of communities who struggle against
racism, homophobia, sexism and exploitation, often leading to very real material gains (see
for instance Brett and Wood, 2006; Monson, 2007; Roy, 2010; Taylor, 2010). In a much
more direct way, music has also been used in both left (Eyerman and Jamison, 1998) and
right-wing movements (Adorno, 2002b; Baker, 2013; Teitelbaum, 2014) to mobilise action
as well as to reinforce political sentiments. Music can, therefore, actively change the way
people interpret, experience and think about the world (DeNora, 2003a; Frith, 1987) in a
variety of ways, as well as impacting directly on material inequalities. Focusing on both
social reproduction and social change, and complex processes of technological, geographic
and perceptual shifts, in addition to economic ones, is therefore required.

MCA and Genre


The decisions that researchers following Bourdieus MCA method make, raise problems
for research on music particularly, the most notable being a problem of classification. In
order to make quantitative generalisations, surveys narrow down the number of choices

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that respondents can make. Hypothetically, if 60,000 respondents all mentioned different
musical pieces it would be impossible to make statistically significant generalisations.
This makes quantitative research into the correspondence between tastes and social
groups difficult and, in fact, is one of the reasons why Savage (2006) argues for using
genres rather than just individual pieces.
However, this complexity raises a broader issue about the necessity of using genres in
the first place. Genre labels are frequently diffuse, contested and changeable (Beer, 2012),
and the importance placed on the significance of genres in research may reflect the
researchers own perceived importance the insider knowledge argument (Hodkinson,
2005) rather than locating the perceptions of others within a wider social context.
Genres mean, and have meant, completely different things to different people at different
points in time, and respondents are far more likely to stereotype in relation to genres
(Savage, 2006: 167), especially when they are talking about what music they dislike.
My own research, using open-ended questions, demonstrated that less than half of all
respondents (n = 914) mentioned a genre when talking about their preference compared
to over 90 per cent when discussing their dislikes (de Boise, 2015: 129).
The problem of genres in sociological music research is something which Bourdieusian
scholars have acknowledged (see Rimmer, 2012; Savage and Gayo, 2011). However, the
use of pre-defined categories belies a broader issue with Bourdieusian approaches. That
Bennett etal. (2008: 199) demonstrate a relationship between country music and fish and
chips indicates an expectation whereby certain things will be demonstrated to be more
or less working class, just as Bourdieus inclusion of Strauss and Bach as variables in
his survey indicates some of his own preconceptions of proletarian and bourgeois music.
Similarly the notion that heavy metal is more middle class now, creates a false coherence which undermines aesthetic, historical and social dimensions of musical specificity.
If you feel this is a slightly picky point, I urge you to compare Kiss with Mayhem or
Motley Cre with Napalm Death.
This is not just an issue of inaccurate representation but an ethical question of how
we construct knowledge about practice. As Watson (2011: 132133) has put it,
Bourdieusian approaches are themselves influenced by Bourdieus reliance on an ahistorical Kantianism, which entails:
an inability to reach a materialist and historical understanding of an object-society which
includes the understanding subject. A metaphysical distinction between mind and matter
prevents researchers examining their own mental categories.

In starting from pre-imposed categories and then working back to demonstrate how
education (or a lack of it) relates to these categories, such an approach sets up the
researcher as the authority on peoples musical lives. Yet without framing the categories themselves through subjects understandings, the result is a presumption of a division between culturally enlightened and culturally nave subjects which, in the end,
reproduces the same kind of objectivist hierarchy that many Bourdieusians are in fact
critical of.
Rather than revealing the organisational principles of a certain field, genre, institution, or habitus, as is often claimed, such approaches may therefore inaccurately depict

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a neat, cohesive set of arrangements, rules and practices where there were none before.
It may be not just that approaches which rely on notions of field and habitus get it
slightly wrong, but actually that they may unwittingly depict a skewed understanding
of how music relates to social inequalities and help to construct the world as they look
to describe it.

Toward a Critical, Practice-Based Music Sociology


Affect, Embodiment and Musical Subjectivity
Prior (2008: 303) argues that there remains a tendency to reduce Bourdieus complex
oeuvre to a few phrases and to tack on Bourdieu-isms in rather simplistic and partial
ways [leading to] a largely uncritical acceptance of Bourdieus concepts and an
unwillingness to test their boundaries and inadequacies (see also Prior, 2013). Whilst
this is a fair assessment in some cases (though, it should be stressed, not in much of the
above research), the premise on which Bourdieusian research into music is based seems
to be too restrictive to keep using cultural capital and habitus as explanatory terms for
highly complex processes.
This presents sociologists with a challenge: how do we conduct empirical research
which is sensitive to non-deterministic questions of aesthetics, which takes into account
sociological concerns around multiple inequalities (intersections of gender, age, class
and ethnicity amongst others), which helps to illuminate the potential for change, and
more accurately reflects a wide range of different interactions with music? Is it possible
to think about music, society and inequality without invoking the holy trinity of field,
cultural capital and habitus?
We first need to rethink the Cartesian division between hexis (body) and doxa (mind),
and the separation of conscious from unconscious, in much theorising on the relationship between social life and music. This has significant political implications for the
sociological study of both social inequalities and music, in that it shifts analytic focus
toward the complexity of persistence and change through engagement with sensory,
physiological experience as crucial to subjectivity and embodiment (de Boise, 2014).
However, it also focuses attention toward how complex discourses shape that development (see also Atkinson, 2011), whilst problematising the false divide between cognitivism and embodiment.
Critical work around affect (Ahmed, 2010; Blackman, 2008; Clough and Halley,
2007; Latour, 2004; Liljestrm and Paasonen, 2010; Massumi, 2002; Sedgwick, 2003),
as well as affect and music (Hennion, 2007; Henriques, 2010; Kassabian, 2013;
Thompson and Biddle, 2013; Volgsten, 2012), has taken up the issue of explaining how
inequalities and material factors inform but do not determine embodiment, in new ways.
These perspectives are not essentialist but very much attuned to perspectives from the
natural sciences, materialism and post-structuralist thought. Crucially, the focus of much
of this research is on ways of understanding subjectivity as relational, material, situated
processes, capable of reproduction and change, without relying on an ethnocentric model
of the individual (see Braidotti, 2013; Federici, 2004) as a bounded entity, divided
between mind and body.

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In contrast to Bourdieusian treatments of habitus, these suggest rethinking how we


study relational subjectivity as interconnected through sensory as well as social environments, rather than seeing responses as determined by socialisation. This is vital for the
study of music as something which has specific sonic properties which evoke affective,
physiological responses because, as demonstrated above, music can impact on the social
as much as the other way round. Relationality therefore becomes a question of affective
flows in specific environments (Henriques, 2010). Yet such approaches retain the idea
that choices are not simply cognitive, individual decisions and that subjectivity is a durable yet ongoing process, influenced by human actors and non-human phenomena, shaped
by power dynamics. Critical literature on affect also means imagining and exploring
interactions with music as sites of intersectional subjectivities, which mutate, reassemble
and change, and influence listening in various different ways (Kassabian, 2013).
This shifts the empirical and analytical focus from taste in music, as a socialised
acquisition, to people doing things with music (Prior, 2013: 189). We must look at how
people use music in different physical contexts (Wood etal., 2007); pay attention to
when, where and why they listen to specific pieces of music (DeNora, 2000); note when
music interaction changes as well as remains stable over periods of time (Kassabian,
2013); foreground peoples interpretations of music within a broader historical framework (Thompson and Biddle, 2013); explore how people learn attachments to music
(Hennion, 2010) whilst locating processes of attachment within multiple dynamics of
power (Atkinson, 2011; de Boise, 2014) and look at how music is both constructed by,
but also influences, actors experiences and forms of action (Frith, 1987: 137) through its
affective capacities (DeNora, 2003a: 92). A more practice-based framework, based on
critical conceptions of affect, thus offers a far less deterministic approach for studying
peoples embodied relationship to music, without neglecting questions of power and
inequalities.

Participation to Engagement
Differing types of musical involvement impact on the communities that form around
music as well as shaping the opportunities of musicians. Bourdieu made limited reference to divisions between instrument choice and music event participation in Distinction
(1984: 18), and surveys have attempted to measure how often people do certain types of
activities. For example, the UKs Taking Part survey, as well as Bennett etal.s (2008)
and Savage etal.s (2013) work, has noted divisions in certain types of music events that
people attend. These have tended to note frequency of visits to the opera/musical theatre
compared to attendance at live music events (DCMS, 2015: 62). There are also estimates around how many people play particular instruments in different countries which
indicate class, gender, age and racial divides in participation (CUKAS, 2014).
In addition to the issues with pre-defining responses (see above) these data include a
narrow range of what constitutes participation in musical activities. Furthermore, with
the ubiquity of digitalisation, the opportunity to create, alter or share music through
online communities (see Wikstrm, 2009) or create music without instruments, affords
access to networks which are not captured by class hierarchies or indications of formal
training (experimenting with virtual studios or learning with YouTube tutorials, for

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example). Free production software and virtual spaces which enable collaborations and
skill sharing from across the world have also made new forms of composition possible
and more widely available. This is not the democratisation of music, as such, but it
should be observed that the variety of different physical and virtual spaces entail their
own power dynamics, mediated by algorithms (Coley and Lockwood, 2012). Thus a
focus on either consumption or participation misses interlocking dynamics of power and
how these relate to social inequalities and, ultimately, the creation of contemporary
forms of music.
In adopting notions of field and sub-field, which are themselves explained using the
metaphor of a game (Bourdieu, 1993: 72), there is a tendency to focus on constant
competition (King, 2000). A stress on the internal logic of the field entails the idea of
actors establishing their individual interests and constantly vying for status, authority
and power. This is a problem in that deprived of any concept of enlightenment or solidarity, culture is reduced to a tool for compensation and upward mobility (Watson, 2011:
106). Of course, musical activities are unequally stratified by demographic differences in
public spaces. Yet in creating music spaces and building networks in and around music,
there are also amazingly high levels of cooperation between actors that make this possible and which are not always visible. To describe only the ways in which people are
kept out, ignores how new forms of music practice are established and subverted.
In order to understand fully the barriers and opportunities to participation, it is important to widen the focus on broader forms of public participation (open mic nights, house
parties, basement shows, self-organised club nights), as well as private ways of
engaging with music, rather than just examining participation in what are deemed to be
accepted cultural activities. As subcultural feminist theorists pointed out, even in the
1970s, focusing on public spaces tends to marginalise or miss certain groups (see for
example McRobbie and Garber, 1975). Exploring a wide range of different forms of
musical engagement, therefore, encompasses processes of consumption, listening, production and participation. It also raises significant questions around the importance
of networks in the current music climate, how music creators are prominent in some
contexts and not others, and the role of virtual spaces and technology in reconstituting
(musical) subjectivity (Braidotti, 2013). Broadening the focus would also help to outline
further the barriers to public participation, as well as highlighting examples of where
networks help to provide support for musical engagement in a variety of different ways.

Capturing Complexity
As suggested throughout, it is necessary to explore how people make their beliefs in
music meaningful through articulation. The assumption, therefore, is that qualitative
methods are better placed to enable this. Whilst some have explicitly outlined the case
against quantitative methods in the study of music (see Rimmer, 2012), the use of large
scale quantitative approaches are important and can be extremely useful (Prior, 2011)
without being deterministic. For instance, using open-ended responses in surveys and
giving people the option to mention preference and activity, rather than pre-defining
classifications (see de Boise, 2015), allows us to explore quantitatively structural regularities (Kemp and Holmwood, 2003), whilst also understanding how preferences and

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motivations are articulated in line with and against these regularities. Developments in
text-analytic software and sound recognition tracking, especially, open up new possibilities for mixed-methods research which does not lose sight of the valuable nature of
quantitative research, but nevertheless counteracts some of the limitations of imposition
outlined above (see also Silva, 2006; Silva etal., 2009).
As a result of the pervasiveness of sociological research on music taste, many countries have also reached a situation where respondents often know what is expected of
them in advance. Hennion (2010), for instance, outlines how sociologists face the problem that many supposedly lay respondents are already aware that they are supposed to
like classical music or learned to play the violin because they grew up in a white, middleclass household. With the proliferation of widespread media coverage of cultural-capitalinspired approaches, it becomes an accepted truth that sociologists are looking for some
link between socialisation and tastes which are repeated in interviews. As noted, such
predictable responses do not necessarily reflect a rich variety of different forms of
engagement with music. What is necessary, then, in Hennions words, is to de-sociologise the amateurs so they can talk not about their determinisms but about ways of doing
things (2010: 2728).
It is possible to focus a discussion about music and social inequalities in such a way
that is not limited to deterministic models of socialisation. Music life histories, in this
respect, are useful for three reasons: firstly, they encourage self-reflection during the
research process and can be empowering for respondents as well as researchers (BattRawden etal., 2005); secondly, they outline persistence and change throughout an individuals life, illustrating generative processes (see Atkinson, 2011); thirdly, they are a
good way of leading the discussion by starting from the experience of the respondent.
Specific events in individuals lives can be connected to broader social trends (Ferrarotti,
1981: 21), without fitting in to a pre-existent causal framework.
Using pieces of music, past memories or events, or the music networks people are
involved in, are good places to start productive discussions in that they focus on relationships between listening, engagement and social life. Kruse (2015), for example, makes
the case for using a self-discovery tapestry (Meltzer, 2001), which involves having
respondents mark on a grid-based timeline when significant events such as forging
friendships, moving away from or to a place, a death in the family had occurred. These
events were then used to provoke discussion around engagement with music, why people
had stopped, what music they connected with at that time in their lives and why, as well
as how, they felt about it now.
Getting people to make playlists or mix CDs (or even tapes) of their life histories as a
way of explaining how they negotiated their choices at various points in their lives is also
an alternative to starting with a checklist of questions. Music therapists have used this
method to illustrate the benefits of music on personal health (Batt-Rawden etal., 2005).
Yet describing the music and memories connected to each piece can also be a means of
sociologically addressing questions of aesthetics, experience, place, memory and discursive power relations. One participant from my research (de Boise, 2015) compiled a mix
CD (helpfully titled Explains it All) in advance of our meeting. He charted what he considered to be his entire musical history, which allowed me to then ask questions around
when he first heard the music, how he became engaged with it and what he thought

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Cultural Sociology

reflecting back now compared to at the time. This yielded a range of topics, from trying
to get his two young daughters interested in his music, his views on contemporary
Black music, how his love of post punk was linked to an image of a grim, wintery North
England decimated by Thatcherism, and how his music listening had changed with technology. Such wide-ranging discussions can easily be linked to concerns around gender,
class, race, social mobility, technological change, historical context and aesthetic
interpretation.

Conclusion
To be clear, I am not suggesting arbitrarily replacing the terms cultural capital and habitus. But we should be aware that when we apply Bourdieusian understandings of habitus,
cultural capital and field to sociologies of music that we are severely limiting our conceptual frameworks. This article has demonstrated how complex questions around aesthetic judgment, value, experience and embodiment cannot be understood just in terms
of taste or adequately addressed through statistical relationships between pre-defined
variables. However, it has outlined that developing new theoretical and methodological
frameworks in music sociology is both a methodological and an ethical question. A more
practice-focused approach, utilising developments around critical affect theory, which
does not reject the importance of large-scale, mixed-methods research, can help to centre
both music and bodies without negating questions of power.
An insistence on generalised hierarchies of taste may actually do more harm than
good through constructing a narrow idea of how people engage with music. This has
real-life implications, especially for how music education is carried out. Rather than
encouraging children and teenagers to appreciate classical music as a means of improving their cultural capital, it is instead important to challenge the idea that music is only
good for improving someones social standing or, conversely, that the interests of
marginalised groups are best engaged through a popular music curriculum because this
represents their own lack of education. Such an approach not only limits the potential for
different discussions around value and music education, but can actually exclude some
groups who are not represented by a romanticised notion of popular music curricula
(Georgii-Hemming and Westvall, 2010).
Research which has been critical of Bourdieu has often reverted to slightly revised
notions of field, sub-field, habitus, and cultural capital. However, the focus on an acquired
habitus or an informally agreed set of rules, does not accurately represent how power
shapes musical engagement. Access to various forms of music participation in different
countries, as well as the institutional value that is placed on certain musics over others,
are shaped by inequalities. Yet engagement with music is not a straightforward question
of class, gender or race, nor is it determined entirely by these factors. It is important
to detail change and resistance, as well as to look at reproduction, through subject-led
interpretations of musical aesthetics located within a broader historical framework. The
impact of music technologies on musical engagement, and a sense of musical subjectivity,
need especially to be taken seriously into consideration.
The task for sociologists interested in music is to develop empirical research agendas
which go beyond the idea of music as fixed by socialisation. We need to account for

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de Boise

music engagement, in different contexts, without losing sight of a broader analysis of


power relations or the potential of music to impact on these. This means questioning
fundamental distinctions between intellectual and embodied endeavours, as well as our
own ways of generating knowledge about different groups music practices. Doing so
has the potential to open up new areas of sociological research, and to contribute muchneeded insights on the value of music, beyond deterministic models of socialisation.
Funding
The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
article.

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Author biography
Sam de Boise is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Music, Theatre and Art at
rebro University, Sweden. His new book (Men, Masculinity, Music and Emotions, Palgrave
Macmillan, 2015) focuses primarily on constructions of emotion in music in relation to Western
masculinity, specifically around music use, distaste and affect. His current project at rebro is
looking to compare gender inequalities in relation to music engagement in the UK and Sweden.
Other interests also include social theory, music technology, neoliberalism and the intersections of
class and cultural practices.

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